Grand National: Moore and McManus plan Wylde Irish party

Sue Montgomery expects a nation's 22-year-old drought to end in the National
It is exactly 150 years since a gelding called Matthew became the first of only 16 Irish-trained winners of the Grand National. And if victory for a horse from Ireland would be appropriate next Saturday, then for Wylde Hide it would be doubly so. For he is trained by Arthur Moore, whose father Dan sent out the last of the heroes from the Emerald Isle, L'Escargot in 1975.

A former Irish amateur champion as a rider, 45-year-old Moore, based near Naas in Co Kildare, is no stranger to success in Britain as a trainer - he described Klairon Davis's victory in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham last year as the best moment of his career - but has yet to see one of his Grand National runners finish. The best of his previous six was Wylde Hide himself, who was just beginning to creep into the reckoning last year when he unseated Francis Woods at the second Canal Turn.

In the past week the lightly raced 10-year-old, owned by the legendary Irish punter J P McManus, has been significantly backed to make amends. His season has been quietly geared to another tilt at the Aintree marathon; he has raced only three times this term, producing an eye-catching performance second time out at Leopardstown in December when he ran New Co to a length in a three-mile Grade Two contest, giving him 10lb, with Time For A Run, in receipt of 12lb, eight lengths behind. Back at Leopardstown earlier this month the son of Strong Gale showed himself in good heart with a front-running success from lesser opposition.

His jumping is sound, he stays well, seems still to be on the upgrade, will act on good ground or softer, and, once the jockeys' pre-National carousel stops spinning, may have the valuable assistance of the Irish champion Charlie Swan, seeking his first National win, in the saddle.

One of the features of this year's race is the effect the presence of the top-weight Master Oats has had on the handicap. The 1995 Gold Cup winner, now seemingly a light of other days, will only run if the ground is soft, but unless he is withdrawn at tomorrow's or Thursday's declaration stages the weights will remain as they are, with only 10 other horses racing off their correct marks above the minimum 10st. Wylde Hide, rated on 9st 13lb, the present favourite Lord Gyllene (9-13) and even Go Ballistic (9-8), are relatively kindly affected, but others further down the list are so "wrong" at the weights as they stand at the moment that they will surely struggle. But if the weights rise, the race would take on a different complexion with a horse like Time For A Run, trained for McManus by Eddie O'Grady, meriting respect.

Suny Bay is another who would have to buck a long-standing trend, bidding as he is to become the first grey to score since Nicolaus Silver in 1961. An eight-year-old by Roselier, he has always been highly regarded by his trainer, Charlie Brooks, but is a fragile individual, prone to breaking blood-vessels.

But he has won all bar one of his completed outings, and was enormously impressive when producing an immaculate round of jumping to trounce Into The Red and St Mellion Fairway (a runner in tomorrow's Irish National) at Haydock in February, and if anyone can nurse him round a gruelling four and a half miles, Jamie Osborne can. Owned by Brooks's landlord, Robert Cohen, he is one of several whose presence is dependent on cut in the ground.

In recent years classy horses who have run well in the Gold Cup have been thereabouts in the National, notably last year's winner Rough Quest. The Cheltenham form is represented this year by Go Ballistic, who stayed on tremendously well to take fourth place and already has an Aintree link, for his owner Sheila Lockhart was named after the 1948 winner Sheila's Cottage. He will be a first National runner for his trainer, John O'Shea, but his rider, Mick Fitzgerald, will be trying to emulate Bryan Marshall (Early Mist 1953, Royal Tan 1954), the last to score in successive years on different horses.

Lord Gyllene, a top novice in New Zealand, emerged as a live candidate once he was tried over extreme trips this season, a winning run of three culminating in victory in the four mile, two furlong National Trial at Uttoxeter. The nine-year-old, trained by Steve Brookshaw (whose late uncle Tim was paralysed in a fall at Aintree in 1963), lost little caste when defeated under top-weight over the same course and distance two weeks ago, but may find a few too quick.

Lo Stregone, favoured by cut, will stay every yard, though probably not fast enough. The quirky Challenger Du Luc will either love it or hate it, but if the course shocks him into doing his best he has a touch of class. Jenny Pitman can never be under- estimated at Aintree, and Smith's Band looks her best hope.

This year's race, the world's most valuable steeplechase at pounds 250,000- added, does not look a vintage renewal. Wylde Hide can bridge a 22-year generation gap and take the prize back to Ireland.

Fences to be taken into consideration

1st fence: Bishops Hall, running in his third National on Saturday, has yet to get beyond the first obstacle. He fell in 1995 and unseated his rider last year.

3rd (Westhead): The first of five open ditches and even horses with Aintree experience can have trouble with it. Party Politics, the 1992 National winner, fell here last year.

6th (Becher's Brook first time): The most notorious but, since being modified, has proved less troublesome. No horse has departed here in the last two years.

7th (Foinavon): At 4ft 6in, the smallest on the course. And, although L'Escargot almost fell at the fence on his way to winning in in 1975, the obstacle has caused relatively little trouble since the horse who gave the fence its name profited from the 1967 pile-up.

8th (Canal Turn first time): Field takes a 90 degree left-hand turn upon jumping this obstacle.

9th (Valentine's Brook): An only slightly paler imitation of the daunting Becher's.

11th (Booth): The second open ditch.

15th (The Chair): At 5ft 2in, the highest with an open ditch wide enough to drive a car through but, another which has claimed no casualties in the last two years.

19th (Westhead second time round): Fourth open ditch.

22nd (Becher's Brook second time): In 1985 West Tip - heavily backed and carrying less weight than when winning the race the following year - was cantering in the lead when falling at this obstacle.

24th (Canal Turn second time): The bogey fence for both Wylde Hide and Son Of War last year. Both horses unseated their riders at this obstacle in 1996.

25th (Valentine's Brook second time)

27th (Booth second time): Fifth and final open ditch.

Montgomery's first four

1 Wylde Hide

2 Suny Bay

3 Time For A Run

4 Go Ballistic

Longshot: Feathered Gale